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Monday, June 13, 2011

Why plant chayote or sunchokes ? And how do you grow them anyway?

                                    Sunchoke (Jerusalem Artichoke)

Chayote growing

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Think biodiversity!

Plant these now --sunchokes Helianthus tuberosus and chayote Sechium edule

The sunchoke, (Jerusalem artichoke), is a variety of perennial sunflower grown for its edible low-starch tuber which looks  like a small potato but tastes like a water chestnut raw, or an artichoke heart, cooked. Not only do they taste good, they help keep blood sugar levels from gyrating around. (see

Sunchoke tubers can be planted in the garden  early . They do best planted in soil that has warmed to 50°F. Nurseries don't seem to carry them, so find the tubers at the Farmer’s Markets along the Central and South Coast, or at Whole Foods. Grow them the same way you would a sunflower (with a seed shaped like a potato!)

"In warm-winter regions sunchokes can also  be planted in winter. They require 110 to 150 days to mature." (from

Note : use a potato ricer to turn them into mashed sunchokes. Use the Cusinart to slice them thin and make an au gratin dish of them---scalloped sunchokes. The point of both these approaches is to avoid having to peel them.
Sunchokes are a good crop for the haphazard gardener. They grow  easily, and being a member of the sunflower family grow tall –six feet—and grow medium sunflowers if you don’t get around to eating all  the tubers. 

For a really  exhaustive treatment of this veg, see 

Sunchoke has a romantic history---Champlain found the Native Americans on Cape Cod eating it, and took it home to France in 1605, where it has been loved* ever since. This is one vegetable that actually sort of fends for itself. 

Chayote (Sechium edule) has a legion of charms, but the most urgent reason to try it now is that it might escape the mildew** that has been ruining our squash, zucchini and gourds along the coast. Normally, plant those 3 seeds and stand back--but not in the last 2 years.

If chayote escapes  mildew, it's a winner. Certainly if grown on a trellis, it's decorative. Chayote's  a well-loved staple in Central America and Mexico. One vine can make 200 chayotes---zucchini, move over. The nice thing about chayote is it can be used in almost any zucchini or squash recipe.

“ Choyote is an edible plant that belongs to the gourd family Cucurbitaceae along with melons, cucumbers and squash…(W)”  The leaves and fruit have diuretic, cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory properties, and a tea made from the leaves has been used in the treatment of arteriosclerosis and hypertension, and to dissolve kidney stones….”

All that and humble  too. Likes about the same conditions as a dahlia. Depending on when you plant it, the fruit will ripen in the fall. Here's a recipe for chayote soup that's  lovely:

And here's how to grow them:
"Planting and spacing. Set a whole chayote fruit about 4 to 6 inches deep, fat end
down and at an angle so that the stem end is just level with the soil surface. Sow seeds or fruits 10 feet apart. Chayote is a vigorous climber; set a sturdy trellis or support in place at planting. Do not allow maturing fruit to come in contact with the soil; it will spoil and germinate while still attached to the vine.
Water and feeding. Give chayote even, regular water; do not let the soil dry out. Add aged compost to the planting bed before planting. Side dress chayote with compost tea every 4 to 6 weeks during the growing season. ..."

Companion plants. Pumpkin, peppers, squash, corn. Do not grow chayote with celery, mint, or snap beans." (from  The The Encyclopedia of Vegetable Gardening by Brenda Little, SilverLeaf Press, Sandyhook, Utah 2006)

Little was an Australian garden journalist and author.

Couldn't have said it better myself....but she forgot to tell you to plant two for fertilization purposes.

Having grown both these beauties---they   Really are  Easy!

* Sunchoke won a prize in Nice c. 2002
 **Several garden books claim it is disease free. Let's hope so.